Colorado Dem House speaker strips Dem of chairmanship after harassment allegations, urges him to resign

Colorado Dem House speaker strips Dem of chairmanship after harassment allegations, urges him to resign

UPDATE: Since the news broke Friday, Westminster Democratic Rep. Faith Winter said she will file a formal complaint against Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock, which would trigger an official investigation. Meanwhile, The Aurora Sentinel called for Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran, writing, “Accounts by Winter and fellow Democrats made it clear that when Duran, a Denver Democrat and House Majority leader, was elected to the House Speaker position later that year, she was well aware of the Lebsock scandal, and that other women had made similar complaints. Yet, after becoming speaker, Duran appointed Lebsock chairman of the House Local Government Committee. When news of this scandal broke Friday, she revoked his leadership position based on public accounts she’d known about for months.” In a statement, Duarn said, “As Speaker of the House, I will continue to support the right of a victim to decide how they want these personal and sensitive situations to be handled. When I named Rep. Lebsock to the chairmanship, I believed that the situation had been resolved to the satisfaction of Rep. Winter. When these new allegations came to light last week, I took action to address them. I would not have appointed him chair knowing what I know today.”

Responding to the newspaper editorial, Rep. Faith Winter tweeted this:

A national cascade of sexual assault allegations against public figures and fallout from them has reached the Colorado statehouse— and with very different results when it comes to partisan wagon circling.

Today, Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran stripped Thornton Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock from his chairmanship of a local government committee and indicated he should “do the right thing” and resign following a bombshell report by KUNC that cited nine legislators, staffers and lobbyists alleging Lebsock harassed women. Lebsock is also running a statewide race for state treasurer.

From KUNC’s report:

Rep. Faith Winter said Lebsock tried to get her to leave a bar with him in 2016. Both were attending a party to celebrate the end of the legislative session. Lawmakers, lobbyists, staff, the governor and members of the media attended the event a few blocks from the Capitol Building. Winter alleges that Lebsock suggested sexual acts the two could do to make each other happy because it was the end of the legislative session and they deserved to be happy.

Winter is also a Democrat.

“While my formal role in investigating complaints established under Joint Rule 38 prohibits me from making initial judgments about the facts, these numerous allegations would represent a major breach of decorum, and I would expect that Rep. Lebsock would consider the impact of his actions on his colleagues and the public confidence in our institution, and do the right thing and resign,” said Speaker Duran in a statement. “There is no place for those types of actions at the legislature.” A spokesman for Duran said she wouldn’t comment to The Denver Post about why she elevated Lebsock to a committee chairmanship when she knew of allegations against him since 2016.

In a statement to The Denver Post, Lebsock said: “I’m extremely sorry that Rep. Winter has been hurt, but I can also say honestly that I do not remember ever saying anything inappropriate to Rep. Winter (the night of the alleged incident).” He also said: “We should take these accusations seriously … I have done nothing that can be described as criminal.” He said the accusations should go through investigatory channels, and he would “moce forward” with his campaing for state treasurer.

Commenters on social media were quick to point out a difference in which party leadership in Colorado is handling allegations of sexual misconduct appearing in the press versus how Republicans at the national level have responded to allegations that Roy Moore, the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Alabama, kissed an fondled a 14-year-old, which he denies. Republican leaders, including U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which seeks to get Republicans elected across the country and has cut ties with Moore, have said Moore should drop out of the Senate race “if these allegations are found to be true.”

In Colorado, some Democrats are going straight to “resign.”

Here’s former State Sen. Mike Johnston, who is running for governor:

In a statement, Democratic Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, who is also running for governor, said, “These are serious allegations, and this type of behavior— corroborated by multiple people— cannot be tolerated in any workplace, much less from a public official. As such, Rep. Lebsock should resign.”

“Sexual harassment has no place at our State Capitol or any other workplace,” said Boulder Democratic Congressman Jared Polis, another gubernatorial contender.” I fully support Speaker Duran’s call for Rep. Lebsock to resign.”

Here’s Steamboat Springs-area Democratic Rep.e-elect Dylan Roberts:

And here’s former Colorado Senate Democratic staffer David Pourshoushtari:

The state’s largest progressive organization is also angling for his immediate ouster:

Republicans didn’t exactly get a clear pass in the KUNC story, though they went unnamed.

More from the KUNC piece produced by Bente Birkland:

Several female lobbyists said they try to avoid being alone with certain senators and go to offices in pairs or ask a male colleague to talk to them instead. None were willing to be named for this story, saying they feared going public would hurt their work at the legislature. Another said, “It’s a well known fact across the building that people like Rep. Lebsock and a number of Senate Republicans have all behaved in a way that that would never be accepted in any other conventional workplace. It crosses party lines and has been happening for generations.” Republicans hold a one-seat majority in the Senate and the president, Kevin Grantham, said no-one has come forward to him with concerns about alleged sexual or other misconduct by any member of the Senate. “This is obviously something we would take very seriously — any kind of allegations of harassment,” Grantham said.

In earlier comments to KUNC, Lebsock expressed support for the #metoo social media movement, telling a reporter, “The ‘me too’ movement has afforded victims of sexual harassment an opportunity to talk about some of the things that have happened in their lives and I think that’s a good way for people to start the healing process.”

He added, “I think that’s about all I’m willing to say at this point because I’m not sure what you’re referencing at all.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated which public radio outlet broke the story. It was KUNC not CPR.  Duran is House Speaker not majority leader.

Photo by Intiaz Rahim, for Creative Commons on Flickr.

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About the Author

Corey Hutchins

is a journalist in Colorado, and Columbia Journalism Review's Rocky Mountain correspondent for the United States Project. Follow him on Twitter @CoreyHutchins and email him at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.

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